Pop Playground
Peace Off

adios 1 and 2 debuted in the UK on September 30th 1967. Their beginning briefs were simple: Radio 1 was to be “the Popular Music Service” whilst Radio 2 was “the light programme”. Radio 2 was always the alternative for those simply not “with” Radio 1, whilst Radio 1 trailed blazes of punk, disco, rave, rap, and Britpop, Radio 2 was marginalised, a place for Genesis, Simply Red, and Enya. Except, within the past few years, a curious thing has happened. Radio 1 has slacked, and Radio 2, the elder statesman, now has a spring extra in its step. It’s now Radio 2 that seems to be breaking the new bands first, and Radio 1 is in the embarrassing position of being beaten to the punch by what is effectively their less-trendy brother. It’s worse than that. Radio 1 isn’t as trendy as its father, and, more importantly, it’s not as popular.

So, over the past few years, Radio 1 bosses have been repeatedly hitting the panic button, and widescale reschedulings, axings, and recastings have occurred. The last one, back in late 2002, saw the wooden spoon award go to the former voice of indie, Steve Lamacq, who saw his airtime reduced from 10 hours a week to effectively 2, and had his flagship show handed over to Colin Murray (who was such a disaster Radio 1 gave it to Zane Lowe a mere six months later).

In the latest reshuffle, perhaps best described as a “diversity rethink”, the loser is long-time Drive Time and “Dance Anthems” host “Dangerous” Dave Pearce, who has also seen his airtime slashed from ten hours down to two, and has had his drive-time coverage revoked entirely.

The Evening Session rethink was a good indicator of Radio 1’s realisation that guitar music had become a legitimate popular genre again, and as such they needed someone who was more media-friendly than the Buscemi-faced Lamacq to helm it, so Pearce’s effective replacement by Zane Lowe in the drive time slot tells us something more: dance music in the UK has effectively had to wave the white flag.

Of the 81 singles that have entered the top 10 so far in 2004, only five of them are dance singles, and even then two of those are by the Boogie Pimps. The remainders, admittedly, are all typical Pearce fare: LMC’s “Take Me To The Clouds Above”, Special D’s “Come With Me” and Narcotic Thrust’s “I Like It”. Looking at a similar period from 1999 we’d get 15 top ten singles. Even taking album charts into consideration, the only top 10 electronica releases this year have been from Zero 7 and Air, two acts from a strain of music entirely at odds with the traditional Dave Pearce “anthem”. What has further hindered his cause is the death of the crossover act: the sales figures for the last Basement Jaxx album were stillborn, and it’s hard to imagine the returns of Underworld or the Chemical Brothers receiving anything more than shoulder shrugs (unless the Chems again filled their album up with indie vocalist guest spots, which just proves the whole point again). We’re living in a different world, a world of top ten singles from The Rasmus, Franz Ferdinand, HIM, and The Coral. No longer shall “Toca’s Miracle” ring out at 6pm every day.

So, enter stage left Zane Lowe. Lowe is one of your new school of Radio 1 daytime hosts, graduating alongside your Colin Murrays, Edith Bowmans, and Wes “Leopold” Butters, the grandchildren of the Matthew Bannister years. These people are “talents”, but their talents are neither spotting and promoting new musical trends nor competently hosting a radio show and maintaining listener interest. These people are playing Hope of the States singles whilst Rome burns. Lowe in particular seems to represent this new approach to presenting, a style taken whole-hoggedly from Lowe’s former employers, MTV2. Lowe is a bandwagon chaser: whereas the men he replaced had a knowledge of the unknown (Pearce regularly played white labels as part of his “Dance Anthems” show, and Steve Lamacq frequently played the demos of unsigned bands), a look at the playlisting for the average Zane Lowe reveals such underground, undiscovered gems as Jet, Kanye West, The Streets, and The Datsuns. This is the same basic playlist that daytime Radio 1 employs. This simply isn’t good enough.

Perhaps aware of his inability to bring anything “alternative” to the “alternative” slot, Radio 1 have decided to push Lowe into the mainstream, as it did with Colin Murray last year, to mixed (read “no”) success. The Evening Session, which, merely three years ago, was Steve Lamacq playing The Vandals and twee-core Fierce Panda releases, is now the flagship genre show of Radio 1. Remaining classified under “rock/indie” on the schedule, this is now what non-daytime Radio 1 revolves around.

It’s not the only change. There is a new “CHAMPIONING OF NEW MUSIC” slot now at 9pm, which appears to be Radio 1 removing the entire burden on Zane Lowe to play any new music at all: let these people take over and do it. The most sensible of the additions to this slot is the moving of Mike Davies’ skate-rock show “The Lock Up” from its early morning position to 9pm. This makes perfect sense: the show’s playlist policy of Funeral For A Friend, Less Thank Jake, and Alkaline Trio has a much greater potential fanbase and popular appeal than the usual early morning Radio 1 “Common freestyles over a Nigerian pan-flute sample” crap.

The problem with this new music slot is that in order to fit it in, Radio 1 has been forced to push John Peel’s radio slot back by an hour. This is the John Peel whose shows regularly segue between grime/George Formby/seven minute drill and bass track/The Fall. It’s seems that Radio 1 have spited their face here, but unfortunately can’t smell anymore. You have to believe that Peel, alongside Westwood, must be next on Radio 1’s redundancy list.

One of the most blindingly obvious needs for Radio 1 was to finally realise that there are 3,000,000 Asians currently living in the UK, and people like Raghav, Panjabi MC, Rishi Rish, Jay Sean et al are legitimate pop stars, without any actually representation on Radio 1. So they’ve installed an Asian music slot. Which is good. Unfortunately, it’s hosted by Bobby Friction and Nihal. Which is bad. If you don’t trust me on this, a brief watch of Channel 4’s “Bollywood Star” should do the trick.

The final champion new music is Annie Mac, who is effectively the new face of dance for the station. Radio 1 has frequently tried to present a sexier, more female face of dance than “Join Me” Judge Jules, but only in a mainstream context (think Sara Cox, or Zoe Ball before her Road to Damascus indie conversion). Mac looks like one of those models now forced into unemployment by the closure of The Face, and has worked on, yes, you guessed it, both Zane Lowe and Colin Murray’s shows. Her love of dance music being so great that she hasn’t actually had anything to do with it on Radio 1 so far. Hmm. Her show promises: “the best from all the dance shows, and…listeners a clubbing guide for the weekend”. You know, like “Dance Anthems” does. Hmmm.

So, Radio 1 in 2004. A station with unqualified DJs, asinine playlist policies, a complete panic over what forms a large part of their playlist failing to sell, and rescheduling for the sake of it. And here’s the new single from The Bees.

By: Dom Passantino

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Posted 06/10/2004 - 03:35:18 AM by Monkian:
 Definitely agree with your initial point that Radio 2 has usurped Radio 1, a station that has been in a state of flux forever, so it seems. Radio 1 plays Top 40 hits - when the Top 40 is as it is and as it has been for a good few years now, therein lies the problem. Even the best salesperson would struggle to peddle this shit. Have to take issue with your view on Zane. Blimey, whichever way you look at it the removal of Dave Pearce is surely a good thing. It is long overdue that the gap toothed gypsy hung up his grubby baseball cap. As for Zane himself I don't see him as a bandwagon jumper - he has served a long apprenticeship on MTV, XFM and he has genuine knowledge of new music be it guitar based, hip hop or electronic. On the rare occasion I listened to his evening session he was trying to break new music of different genres, certainly more than Lamacq/Whiley ever did. He is compromised in the drive time slot, I am fairly certain that here he will have no control over content and be hamstrung with the daytime 'A' list like, say, Mark and Lard always were.
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